Houston's Convention Bureau Stands Ready to Vanquish a Comic Con — Space City Indeed!

Bring it on, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. The nerds are ready for you.
Bring it on, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. The nerds are ready for you.
Photo by Chuck Cook

In the world of comic book superheroes, allegiances can be delicate. One day, everyone is playing nice, fighting villains hellbent on destruction. The next day, former allies are sworn enemies. In real life, the same often holds true, political bedfellows being what they are. But when the Houston Chronicle reported that the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau was suing the Space City Comic Con, we admit, the reasons startled even us.

The simplest explanation is that the city is suing over the name "Space City Comic Con." While "space city" is a commonly used nickname for Houston, like Bayou City or H-Town, used by all kinds of businesses around town, it is also a trademark owned by the city since 2004, predating the convention's use of it by roughly eight years. The trademark is, however, narrowly focused and relates only to promoting tourism, business and conventions, according to the article.

Because Space City Comic Con is a convention, the city says it is infringing on its trademark. But, as with most stories involving politics, there is more to it than that. Turns out the GHCVB is also in the comic convention business.

Back in September, the GHCVB bought a 50 percent stake in rival Comicpalooza, which, it just so happens, is booked at the George R. Brown Convention Center three weeks after the Space City Con, which is being hosted at NRG Park. GRB is owned by the city and NRG by the county.

From the story:

The convention bureau claims in its lawsuit in federal court in Houston that through its promotional efforts, "Space City" has become widely known in the United States, and that Space City Comic Con is causing "irreparable harm" by using the trademarked name.

The bureau is seeking a court order to force the show to stop using "Space City." The lawsuit also would require the company to give up any profits earned from using the trademark and stop competing unfairly against the bureau.


We're going to set aside the laughable assertion that a comic convention could compete unfairly with the fourth-largest city in the country and try to unpack this issue with a Q&A, similar to a convention but without references to Ferengi or kryptonite. 

Wait, the City Owns a Comic Book Convention?

We confess, we did a double take when reading that one. Sure, close to half of our businesses in town are centered around the energy industry, but why not invest in a convention for nerds? The fact that gatherings of this nature — which were, as recently as two decades ago, relegated to a few large conventions a year and the living rooms of hardcore fantasy geeks — are now the stuff of big business is remarkable. Even more so is the city's willingness to go so far as to invest in one.

But we are guessing the investment wasn't widely known about because, in a city where Go Texan Day is actually a thing, we aren't sure if Houstonians are ready for Go Cosplay Day. Running around dressed like Roy Rogers may be nearly as odd as dressing like Wonder Woman (hey, they both have lassos) — it doesn't feel quite mainstream enough — but who knows? Check into that, Mayor Turner!

Why do they care about the name of a convention?

Let's face it, they probably don't really care all that much. This is mostly about the fact that the GHCVB wasn't clever enough to check the county's upcoming events calendar when it booked Comicpalooza. We think most area geeks will have plenty of energy for two conventions and will have no issues donning that Klingon makeup twice in a month, but no one wants to be second, especially to Harris County, a bizarre city-county rivalry we have always thought was ridiculous. But since the trademark covered conventions specifically, it probably seemed like a good way to thwart a competitor (and perhaps hurt the county's efforts at attracting conventions to NRG and away from the GRB in the future).

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Lawyers quoted in the article think it's a stretch. Let's hope so because it's silly and a bad look for a city that is trying to bring in new business, not turn it away. And, by the way, why didn't they just buy 50 percent of the Space City Comic Con instead and solve the problem? It would have been far more...ahem...logical.

What is with the city's obsession with NASA?

We all love NASA and it clearly has had a dramatic impact on our city, but this isn't the first time we've heard this whole notion of promoting the federal space program as a means of upping our cred. The same thing happened recently when the city delayed funding an art piece at George R. Brown Convention Center over the idea that it should be more in line with the city's branding. Members of City Council brought up the city "brand," and we thought it was as idiotic then as we do now.

We will admit the linking of science and science fiction would be inspired if done in the right way, but like so many things the city does when it comes to promoting itself, the handle has been clumsy at best, which brings us to...

Who trusts the GHCVB to get the city's branding right?

Perhaps this is the most pertinent question. Our past is filled with failed examples of nicknames — we're looking squarely at you, "Golden Buckle of the Sun Belt" — and this feels like another example. Frankly, any name built on the back of a business or industry — Energy Capital of the World, hello! — is a bad idea. Ask Detroit if you need an example.

For once, we wish Houston's leaders would spend less time harping over obvious, black and white references and try thinking outside the box. We've beaten the space program and the energy industry into oblivion with only moderate success. Taking out our frustrations on a comic book convention while simultaneously promoting a rival we happen to own is not going to make anyone think Houston is a good place to do business...or, more appropriately, help us live long and prosper.


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